His business associates know him as R. Edward Gibbons, the longtime Johnson City insurance man and CEO of Watauga Insurance.
His fellow Lions Club members know him as their eyeglasses chairman, projects treasurer and vice district governor for the 41 Lions clubs between Mountain City and Knoxville.
In the local nonprofit community, Gibbons is known for his long service as a board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Johnson City/Washington County and Dawn of Hope, and as a former board member for Friends of Olde Downtown.
At Central Baptist Church, he’s known as active member, a deacon and a former chairman of the board.
To his family, he’s the cheering grandfather in the stands at fall soccer games.
And to about 300 people annually in Washington and Unicoi counties who cannot afford eye exams and glasses, Gibbons is the go-to man for applications for the Lions’ assistance, eligibility reviews and appointment referrals and fittings, all at the expense of local Lions and optometrists who work with them.
Of his many pursuits, Gibbons said, “I enjoy them all. If you can get out in the community and work you meet a lot of people. You network. And you get to meet a lot of prominent people who will do business with you after they get to know you.”
In his 42 years with the Lions, Gibbons has seen the Johnson City club at its height with about 100 members and its current low of about 30. To his great satisfaction, he recently witnessed one of the club’s finest moments, the chartering of a new East Tennessee State University Campus Lions Club.
“For all the civic clubs,” he said, “it’s getting harder to find young members. We helped charter the ETSU campus Lions this month and hopefully a lot of them will join clubs after they graduate.
“I told them before they can graduate they have to recruit a replacement. I was just kidding, but hopefully they will recruit members because that’s going to be a challenge to keep it active and keep it growing.”
With the Lions, Gibbons has helped collect an average of 4,000 pairs of used eyeglasses annually and helped deliver those glasses to the eyeglass recycling center in Roanoke, Va., for refurbishment and distribution to people all over the world who would have never had glasses without them.
To cover the cost of exams and eyeglasses for people locally who cannot afford them, he sells pecans with the club every Christmas season and turtle sponsorships for its annual Turtle Derby each fall.
He’s served in all the club’s officers’ chairs and in recent years he’s worked his way through each of the district officers’ chairs with the exception of the district governor’s seat he will fill next year.
“I wish more people would be involved in the civics clubs, whether it’s the Lions, the Rotary, the Kiwanis or the other clubs, because there’s a lot more need out there than all of them can meet and we need more people to meet more need,” he said.
“Instead of 300 eyeglasses a year, I wish I could do 600. I have 90 applications right now and there’s a 90-day waiting period because one a day is all I can do and I don’t have another person.”
In his personal pursuit of new Lions Club members, Gibbons recently enjoyed a most-rewarding success close to home. Very close.
Over breakfast one morning last week, Theresa, his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years who travels with him for Lions district business and seminars, told the incoming district governor. “ ‘You know I really ought to join since you’re going to be governor.’
“I said, ‘Yes, you really ought to,’ and I’ve got to get her an application,” he said, with his head still tilted in wonder.